I heard somewhere about a church service in which the preacher preached a powerful sermon, and afterwards one of the elders got up and prayed, “The preacher has lit many a spark in our hearts; Lord, help us water them.” I don’t think he meant for it to come out like that!
Still, that prayer describes what many of us do after a good sermon or Bible class—we are inspired to do better, to save souls, to repent of sin, to depend on God more…but we “water” that inspiration. We douse the flame.
Something tells me that if we thought about sermons and lessons as continuing after they have been taught, they might have more of an impact for good on our lives.
James 1 is one of those chapters in the Bible that we have proof-texted to death. We quote verse 19 to address the kind of communication that improves relationships. We quote verse 21 to talk about the role of God’s Word in the plan of salvation. We quote verse 25 to show that the Word of God is “perfect,” that is, complete, and that there is still “law” under the new covenant, although it is a covenant of grace. These may be appropriate applications, but they don’t truly explain the passage in its context.
James 1:19-25 is one complete thought triggered by James’s statement in verse 18 that Christians are “brought forth,” or born again, by the “word of truth.” The discussion that follows is guidance on what to do after you hear the preaching of God’s Word.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
James says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” We deceive ourselves if we think the work of the sermon is done as soon as we walk out of the foyer into the parking lot.
The scene in verses 23-24 looks a lot like what many of us do after church. James describes a man who catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror, but leaves forgetting what he looked like. That’s like sitting through a thirty minute sermon, leaving, and taking no further thought about how to apply what you’ve learned.
Verse 25 pictures a different scene, one that describes the proper way to respond to a good Bible lesson. Here we see a man who “looks” and “perseveres.” Literally, he looks intently. Moffatt’s translation says he gazes. This is like a person who listens intently to the word being preached, with an aim not to be a hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts.
That is the way to keep from watering the spark.